Writing Degree Zero / Le Degré Zéro de L'Écriture, 1953
book by Roland Barthes
This is the book that establishes Barthes as one of leading critics of modernist literature in France. In it Bathes demonstrates that the classical textual codes of French writing (from the mid-seventeenth century until the mid-nineteenth century) are used to suggest that such codes are natural, neutral and transparent. Barthes argues that whilst generating the illusion of a 'zero-degree' of style, these codes serves the purpose of constructing reality in accord with the bourgeois view of the world and covertly propagating bourgeois values as self-evident. It also introduces the concept of écriture ("scription") as distinguished from style, language, and writing.
"Form (...) becomes more than ever an autonomous object, meant to signify a property which is collective and protected, and this object is a trouble-saving device: it functions as an economy signal whereby the scriptor constantly imposes his conversion without ever revealing how it came about."
(Barthes, Writing Degree Zero)
"Literature is an undoubted mythical system: there is a meaning, that of the discourse; there is a signifier, which is this same discourse as form or writing; there is a signified, which is the concept of literature; there is a signification, which is the literary discourse. I began to discuss this problem in Writing Degree Zero, which was, all told, nothing but a mythology of literary language. There I defined writing as the signifier of the literary myth, that is, as a form which is already filled with meaning and which receives from the concept of Literature a new signification."
(Barthes comments on Writing Degree Zero in "Myth Today" in Mythologies)